I was speaking with a friend who’d attended the most fascinating service the other day, certainly one which got us both to thinking, in which a young man was formally given his Hebrew name in front of an entire congregation of worshippers.
So far, so normal, yes? Not long into his speech, the rabbi mentioned that this young man had come before this same congregation seven years prior as a 12-year-old girl, having her bat mitzvah, and this day was back because he wanted to celebrate his transition before his family and his faith and to receive his new Jewish name, as he is now known as ________. (I am leaving even the English name blank for the sake of privacy.)
My friend was moved, and said that the emotion in the sanctuary was palpable. Strangers were moved practically to tears by the obvious support this young man had from his family and his rabbi. Perhaps most shocking to her, however, was the reaction of a couple of congregants. For the most part, there was joy, but with a topic like this, fear and ignorance will breed judgement. One man, in his 50s, quietly got up and left. A young family with school-age daughters shooed the girls out of the sanctuary and then the couple sat and stared daggers of anger at the happy, beaming parents of the transgender young man (who, according to my friend, looks just like any other “normal” teenage boy).
Fortunately, no one in the family noticed any of this, however, because what most stood out to all was not only the boy’s great happiness, but the ear-to ear-grin of the elderly man who stood next to him (by coincidence) throughout—a total stranger—who was absolutely thrilled for the family. In fact, this man emotionally thanked the rabbi for creating such a safe and welcoming environment to all, and then congratulated the boy on this momentous day.
My friend later struck up a conversation with this older man, after the services. They discussed how much they enjoyed being a part of a community that accepts everyone. My friend mentioned outright what a surprise it was to her that he, the senior citizen, was so accepting of the situation, while it was a couple of the younger congregants who seemed to be the only ones who perhaps had a problem with that portion of the day’s service. “Maybe I’m the ignorant one for being so assuming,” she said. The man answered, still smiling, “I have a daughter who is gay, and for too many years this was a Big Secret. We felt we couldn’t share this with our friends, and it’s a shame.”
So today I ask you: What secrets are you still keeping from your parents and why? Their reactions may just surprise you.
As always, I am here to help you navigate the waters of difficult conversations. Please reach out.
All my best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.